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Sunday, November 30, 2008


At last we are in Mexico. It is our first time on the Pacific coast of the country, and we will visit three very different and interesting ports: Huatulco, Acapulco, and Cabo San Lucas.

Huatulco with its 18 miles of coastline forming nine beautiful bays of soft, white sand beaches is our first port of call. Today’s Huatulco is Acapulco twenty years ago, and it is ripe for development. That’s what is happening here as resorts open and Americans join Europeans in this quiet city of only 7000 year-round residents. Much of the area has been designated an ecological reserve, so Huatulco has a very different and less hassled feel from much of the Mexican Riviera.

As the ship pulls into port, the panorama is spectacular. We stand on our balcony, and as we shift our views, we’re greeted by high, forested mountains almost layered behind a colorful, picturesque village and sparkling white sandy beaches. Look in another direction, and we’re treated to a coastline sprinkled with intriguing rock formations. Recreational boats ply the seductive waters, and even as we try to photographically capture this elusive scene, we are anxious to leave the ship and experience what are eyes reveal.

Marty, Sue, Rob and I opt for a lazy day on the beach. That’s a must. While the Coral Princess has many options, it does not have beaches and ocean. We book a shore excursion to Las Brisas Resort. When it opened in 1987, it was the largest Club Med in the western hemisphere. Now operated by Las Brisas, it still has the facilities and activities for which Club Med is famous.

The problem is that this shore excursion is poorly managed. The hotel is very beautiful and luxurious, but we are dropped off at Las Brisas with no instructions from the tour operator (selected by Princess), and no one we ask seems to know how our excursion works or what facilities and activities are available to us. We basically have to find our way around and discover these amenities ourselves. That consumes time. However, this is the only excursion on the entire cruise that proved a disappointment. When we took our concerns back to Princess in the evening, we were given a refund for the day. So it’s difficult to hold too much of a grudge because we’re resourceful, did manage to have a decent day, and Princess attempted to make it right.

As I said, we four are resourceful, and in no time we found a beach, lugged some lounges together under a palm umbrella, and headed for the water which was lovely and calm. Our homing instincts led us to the nearest beachfront bar, and we kicked back, enjoyed the local beer, and relaxed a bit. We did not get to sail or snorkel—a BIG MINUS because the deep cove in which the hotel sits would have made sailing an absolute delight—and we did not get to sit down and enjoy the hotel’s cuisine; hence we missed the local specialties. As we discovered our way back to meet our coach, we spotted the catamarans just around a corner on another part of the cove. Rob and I just looked at each other. Still we had been warmed by the sun, cooled by the water, and spent the day with our friends. And our walk let us enjoy meeting iguanas on every possible rocky place. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it?


Poogan's Porch
72 Queen Street
Charleston, SC 29401

Charleston, South Carolina's Poogan’s Porch is a restaurant Rob and I wanted to visit during our last Charleston stay, but time did not permit. You'll find Poogan's Porch listed in many of the Charleston guidebooks, but we are lured here for more than its gustatory reputation. We'd taken a Charleston Ghost tour, and Poogan’s is one of the unearthly stops.

Poogan was the dog that lived in this home, now a restaurant. Poogan is buried in the front yard of the restaurant. There's a small monument there in his memory. It is reported that many patrons who dine on the porch feel soft nudging at their feet, but when they bend down to peek beneath the draping table linen, there is nothing there to disturb them. Hmmmmmmmm

We went for lunch following our Gullah Tour of Charleston. Wendy Fitzgerald, Rob, and I were anxious to see if we could coax up another ghost who lives in the building. This is the ghost of the old spinster woman, Zoe Armand, who once lived in this house with her sister Elizabeth. Guests at the Miller House hotel across the street have reported seeing a woman dressed in black standing at the windows on the upper floors long after the restaurant is closed.
Zoe was a real witch in life, very nasty, and in death she periodically torments patrons who venture to the second floor ladies' room. When a diner walks down the long, narrow hallway toward the end of the house and locks the door of the single ladies' room, SOMETIMES there is a dreadful loud banging on the door. But when the frightened woman in the lavatory drums up the courage to open the door, she is greeted by a still and empty hallway. I asked our Ghost Tour guide if anything bad ever happened to the patrons, and he assuredly said no one had ever been harmed.

At lunch we three sat calmly in the lovely dining room downstairs waiting for our lunch. Wendy decided to use the ladies' room--the second floor room--and she departed. Rob, her diabolical brother, quickly urged me to go up and start banging wildly on the door. Being the mature individual I am, I practically tripped over myself hustling up the stairs. I must have banged pretty hard because a man emerged from his nearby office, and seeing it was only another woman, quickly retreated. Meanwhile Wendy emerged from the room, eyes tearing with laughter. She had already decided to do the same thing to me! Humph! We both had a good chuckle, but unfortunately neither of us met any ghost. Too bad. And now to lunch.

Poogan's Porch is lovely. Each room is beautifully appointed, and the menu varied and interesting. Of course we asked our waitress to recommend Southern specialties--things we cannot order back home. And she did. Lunch was absolutely delicious!

We began with a shared order of fried green tomatoes--thank you Fannie Flagg for making fried green tomatoes high on northerners' "gotta try" list. They were delicious. Rob tried the gumbo which Wendy and I also tasted. Wow!

Our entrees were wonderful. The waitress convinced Rob to try the Shrimp and Grits. He'd received the same recommendation before but yielded to other yearnings. This time he listened, and he was thrilled with the tri-colored peppers, sweet onions, tasso ham and blue crab gravy.

Wendy ordered the Southern Po Boy with Cajun remoulade and catfish. Nothing was left on her plate either.

I ordered the Jambalaya, a mouthwatering combination of a spicy tomato creole sauce, sausage, chicken, and rice. Super! Experimenting with regional foods is exciting and fun.

This was a great lunch as well as a fun time hunting up ghosts. Too bad we were only successful with 50% of the afternoon’s potential.


Ah, Virginia in September is absolutely gorgeous for a New Yorker. It's still summer here although there is just enough of a hint of autumn to make the temperatures absolutely delightful. Here we are, back at Massenutten Resort in McGaheysville, Va, just minutes off the I 81 in Harrisonburg, home of James Madison University. Massanutten is primarily a time share resort, the biggest in the Vacation Village chain. It's an easy drive from New York, and it is located in the magnificent Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. (Do you know that bluegrass song?)

We're staying in a different section of the resort this year ( . Last year was Eagle Trace, a Silver section in this resort; this year we're in Woodstone, a Gold Crown property. We've got a big, beautiful two bedroom, two-bath suite that is laid out to insure each couple’s privacy. There's a cozy gas fireplace which we use on the first night just because it adds a charming glow. Our balcony looks out over other units to the mountains. It's still early autumn here, several weeks behind New York, and the weather is delightful. We've met my cousin Rita from Richmond, my cousin Bill from Tucson, and my sister Robyn and brother-in-law Neal from upstate New York. They're staying at The Summit, another Gold Crown section here. Their two bedroom unit is laid out a bit differently from ours but offers the same amenities, and in this case, their Jacuzzi is a double while ours in only a single. Hmmmm At any rate, the units offer us plenty of opportunity and space to get together, hang out, and reminisce. That's what we're here for.

Yesterday before Rita and Bill arrived, Rob and I headed to the Woodstone Recreation Center, one of two recreation centers on the resort property. There we used the treadmill for a while and then headed back to get ready to meet Robyn and Neal. We four headed to James Madison University's Arboretum.

We were told it is one of the few university arboretums in the country open to the public. We took full advantage and picked up an Arboretum Walking Tour trail guide to help us identify the trees and remaining flowers. We ate our picnic lunch at one of the tables and just relaxed in the warm sun. The guide map sent us along lovely wood-chipped trails past signs that at the right seasons pointed out flowers in bloom or suggested a pause in the walk to admire a tree or bush. As it is late Sept., most of these treats are gone, and we were advised that in March and April, these trails are ablaze with a glorious outpouring of color and variety. Occasionally we'd come across a pavilion where a seminar was occurring and once a young, lone runner sped by, earbuds in place. He nodded as he passed us.

Our walk took us past a picturesque pond complete with stone waterfall and ducks. While it is possible to buy duck food from the machine for a quarter, Robyn had some bread crusts left from lunch, and the ducks seemed quite satisfied. We also saw turtles in the water or sunning themselves on rocks. In the middle of a bustling university, this natural haven seemed quite remote and peaceful.

There is also a Meditation Garden that we decided to save for another visit. Instead we headed back to the resort and the best miniature golf courses I've ever played. It's not only a good course attractively designed but also the views of the Shenandoah Mountains are so lovely that it's hard not to stop and admire the scenery. They're very clever at the resort; there are actually two 18-hole courses back to back with different colored flags to separate them. This way they avoid a pile-up when the facility gets crowded, not that it has been in any of the times we've come. Still, we like to travel off season, and indeed there is blessedly a lack of children at this time of year. We were on the 14th hole when Rita and Billy arrived, and I'd like to claim their arrival took me off my game and that's why I came in 3rd, but that would be a lie, and there are few things worse than a bad lie in golf. Ha Ha Simply means I'll have to come back to play again and try to beat Rob who came in first.


Finally got to a book given to me as a birthday present in 2007. Glad that I did. Old anglophile that I am, this #1 British bestselling book sparked an appreciation for a departure from the ordinary. The book is The Reading Group. The author is Elizabeth Noble, and gentlemen, it is almost definitely not a book for you. Glamour (UK) writes, "This is a real female-bonding novel in the very best sense; it's witty and immediately engaging." I heartily concur.

I am immediately intrigued by the novel's unusual structure. The reading group meets once a month; the time span of the novel is one year. Each chapter introduces the book selection of the month. Each month a different woman makes the selection. The book becomes a reflection of each member’s personality but also speaks to the other women in some profound way, reflecting aspects of their own lives. Their personal stories are also revealed--their loves, heartbreaks, successes, disappointments, and growth. The women's personal stories evolve as the year progresses and often impact on their reactions to the book selection. They learn, through the books and their sensitive interaction with each other, how to cope with the intricacies of life's relationships. In the course of the year, each woman grows not only as an individual but also as a compassionate and understanding friend. See, it IS a woman’s book.

On one lovely level, The Reading Group demonstrates what we readers know--that there is something powerful and special about reading between the lines--in books AND in life. Personal growth can come from both. Immediately the relationship with reading brings a feel-good moment to me!

On another lovely level, I know how important my friends are to me. Friendship among women is very different from friendship among men. The Reading Group applauds the importance of these special relationships, and that puts it up with The Divine Secret of the Ya Ya Sisterhood.

I did have a bit of trouble for a while as I was introduced to the many characters in this book. The plot encompasses the group's members, their husbands and significant others, their children (and their problems), and some significant outsiders. Not quite a cast of thousands, but definitely enough characters to have me checking back to the character listing at the beginning of the book. Ms. Noble must have had a premonition.

Don't be put off if it takes you a bit of time to get into this book. The many characters and the fact that each member of the group has a different life challenge--hence a slew of subplots to suck you in—doesn’t allow the book to flow as I might have liked. But once you've been bitten, you will want to find out how each problem is resolved. And I think you will be satisfied.

The Reading Group is a good one to take along on a trip. Oh, and if you're an Anglophile, you'll love these women and their language, their slang, their references, and their interests. At the same time they are universal, they are also oh so British. Enjoy.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I'll write about these waterfalls and give directions at a later date--probably when we've been to all eight waterfalls beginning just outside Milford, PA. Rob and I had a lovely summer day exploring these areas when the water did a slow, summer dance. My friends and I thrilled at the rushing and the noise on this autumn day, and I thought I'd share it with you.
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Thursday, November 20, 2008


Believe it or not, this is an excellent time to travel because everyone wants your business. If you look carefully, you can snag some super deals. Here’s some things you might consider:

1. Think about the “shoulder season,” which runs from about April 15 through June 15. Prices are lower on flights and hotels, and crowds are smaller too. Choose a destination and check on the web to learn about the weather. Is it a rainy season? What are the temperatures? You can find some great tropical locations or you can hit Europe when airfares are often close to half price.

2. Think about Latin America where prices are favorable to Americans. Rob and I loved Costa Rica. We’re heading to Mexico for two weeks this winter. Try South America. Expedia reports that roundtrip airfares between the U.S. and Latin America average under $500 year round.

3. Make sure you sign up for where you will be notified of airfare specials from your area. If you are flexible, you can get a great deal on your vacation.

4. Look at for some good deals. Cruise lines, for instance, are offering all kinds of specials right now.